It takes a lot of effort to make a fan of turn-based strategy set down a game because it’s too slow. Slow and methodical is what the entire genre is about, so when an enthusiast tells you that a TBS game is too slow you know it’s one to avoid. It’s a shame, too, because World War II naval combat deserves to be featured in a much more exciting game.
So, in a genre defined by its sloth-like pace, what makes Steel Horizon feel so glacial? The strategy – or more appropriately, the complete and total lack thereof. Strategy games are defined by the units at the player’s command, and aside from the flagship, your fleet is completely non-customizable. True, you can choose what types of ships you command, but every light frigate is just like every other light frigate. It would have spiced things up immensely if I could upgrade the armaments and propulsions systems of the ships at my command. There are 14 types of ships available, but compared to customizable games like Custom Robo Arena or Battles of Prince of Persia, 14 isn’t really a big number.
Missions are also boring, although they don’t start out that way. Just like the ship’s inability to be upgraded, so too are the missions relatively static. Any game is going to feel slow when every level is just like the one that precedes and follows it. One can only complete the same mission objectives so many times before a game ceases to be fun and begins be a chore to be finished before moving on to the next game. Again, Steel Horizon deserves better because the story is one worth experiencing if only for German and Japanese soldiers presented as real people instead of just more bad guys to shoot.
And if a lack of customization combined with repetitive mission requirements weren’t enough to keep this game off your shelf, the AI is pitifully stupid. It passes up on obvious opportunities to gain the upper hand to take on targets that are inconsequential and pose it no threat. If I can’t customize my ships and the levels are all the same then the battles need to be interesting and challenging.
The story is Steel Horizon‘s only draw, and the shallow strategy, lack of customization, and repetitive missions are more than enough to counteract it. The DS is lacking in strategy games, but those looking for a turn-based fix would do better to seek out some of yesterday’s favorites like Advance Wars DS and Age of Empires because there’s just not enough strategy or unit customization to keep fans of the genre interested.